American Civil War: Brigadier General Albion P. Howe

Albion Howe
Brigadier General Albion P. Howe. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

A native of Standish, Maine, Albion Parris Howe was born March 13, 1818. Educated locally, he later decided to pursue a military career. Obtaining an appointment to West Point in 1837, Howe's classmates included Horatio Wright, Nathaniel Lyon, John F. Reynolds, and Don Carlos Buell. Graduating in 1841, he ranked eighth in a class of fifty-two and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 4th US Artillery. Assigned to the Canadian frontier, Howe remained with the regiment for two years until returning to West Point to teach mathematics in 1843. Rejoining the 4th Artillery in June 1846, he was posted to Fortress Monroe before sailing for service in the Mexican-American War.

Mexican-American War

Serving in Major General Winfield Scott's army, Howe took part in the siege of Veracruz in March 1847. As American forces moved inland, he again saw combat a month later at Cerro Gordo. Late that summer, Howe earned praise for his performance at the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco and received a brevet promotion to captain. In September, his guns aided in the American victory at Molino del Rey before supporting the assault on Chapultepec. With the fall of Mexico City and end of the conflict, Howe returned north and spent much of the next seven years in garrison duty at various coastal forts. Promoted to captain on March 2, 1855, he moved to the frontier with a posting to Fort Leavenworth. 

Active against the Sioux, Howe saw combat at the Blue Water that September. A year later, he participated in operations to quell the unrest between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in Kansas. Ordered east in 1856, Howe arrived at Fortress Monroe for duty with the Artillery School. In October 1859, he accompanied Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee to Harpers Ferry, Virginia to assist in ending John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal. Concluding this mission, Howe briefly resumed his position at Fortress Monroe before departing for Fort Randall in the Dakota Territory in 1860.

Civil War Begins

With the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861, Howe came east and initially joined Major General George B. McClellan's forces in western Virginia. In December, he received orders to serve in the defenses of Washington, DC. Placed in command of a force of light artillery, Howe traveled south the following spring with the Army of the Potomac to take part in McClellan's Peninsula Campaign. In this role during the siege of Yorktown and Battle of Williamsburg, he received a promotion to brigadier general on June 11, 1862. Assuming command of an infantry brigade late that month, Howe led it during the Seven Days' Battles. Performing well at the Battle of Malvern Hill, he earned a brevet promotion to major in the regular army. 

Army of the Potomac

With the failure of the campaign on the Peninsula, Howe and his brigade moved north to participate in the Maryland Campaign against Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. This saw it take part in the Battle of South Mountain on September 14 and fulfill a reserve role at the Battle of Antietam three days later. Following the battle, Howe benefited from a reorganization of the army which resulted in him assuming command of the Second Division of Major General William F. "Baldy" Smith's VI Corps. Leading his new division at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, his men remained largely idle as they were again held in reserve. The following May, VI Corps, now commanded by Major General John Sedgwick, was left at Fredericksburg when Major General Joseph Hooker commenced his Chancellorsville Campaign. Attacking at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg on May 3, Howe's division saw heavy fighting.       

With the failure of Hooker's campaign, the Army of the Potomac moved north in pursuit of Lee. Only lightly engaged during the march to Pennsylvania, Howe's command was the last Union division to reach the Battle of Gettysburg. Arriving late on July 2, his two brigades were separated with one anchoring the extreme right of the Union line on Wolf Hill and the other at the extreme left to the west of Big Round Top. Effectively left without a command, Howe played a minimal role in the final day of the battle. Following the Union victory, Howe's men engaged Confederate forces at Funkstown, Maryland on July 10. That November, Howe earned distinction when his division played a key role in the Union success at Rappahannock Station during the Bristoe Campaign.   

Later Career

After leading his division during the Mine Run Campaign in late 1863, Howe was removed from command in early 1864 and replaced with Brigadier General George W. Getty. His relief stemmed from an increasingly contentious relationship with Sedgwick as well as his persistent support of Hooker in several controversies relating to Chancellorsville. Placed in charge of the Office of Inspector of Artillery in Washington, Howe remained there until July 1864 when he briefly returned to the field. Based at Harpers Ferry, he aided in attempting to block Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early's raid on Washington. 

In April 1865, Howe took part in the honor guard that watched over the body of President Abraham Lincoln after his assassination. In the weeks that followed, he served on the military commission that tried the conspirators in the assassination plot. With the end of the war, Howe held a seat on a variety of boards before taking command of Fort Washington in 1868. He later oversaw the garrisons at the Presidio, Fort McHenry, and Fort Adams before retiring with the regular army rank of colonel on June 30, 1882. Retiring to Massachusetts, Howe died in Cambridge on January 25, 1897 and was buried in the town's Mount Auburn Cemetery.


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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Brigadier General Albion P. Howe." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, February 16). American Civil War: Brigadier General Albion P. Howe. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Brigadier General Albion P. Howe." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).